(SPOILER WARNING!!! This article does contain spoilers, if you haven’t seen the movie, just see the first paragraph to be informed without spoilers!!!)
Ben-Hur has upped the action for this version, but the story is rushed and underwhelming, however, the message in this movie is a lot clearer which I appreciated!!!
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Back when I was a kid I use to rummage through my grandfather’s old VHS tapes to see what he had. He had many classics from the 50’s and 60’s, and one of them was the 1959 movie, Ben-Hur. Every time I watched the movie, I always fell asleep and missed the good parts of the movie. I decided this past summer to finally watch this movie in its entirety. After watching it, I thought the story and characters are very thought provoking and the action for that time was awesome, especially the truly epic chariot race. I was hoping that the remake would stick to its core at the very least. In some aspects you got it, and times you don’t, and other times you got more than what you expected. I will explain.
What I Like: What really made this movie was the action, and really it was two scenes. The battle in the ship where Ben-Hur, played by Jack Huston, was a slave rower. The intensity of that scene was very gripping and unique. Feeling the power of a ship ramming to another ship, and the destruction it entails was very cool to see. The other scene was the chariot race. I give credit to director Timur Bekmambetov in really making that scene awesome and unique. This was the scene I was looking forward to, and it did deliver. It was intense, and whenever a chariot crashes, you feel every hit. The CGI was top notch, and really gave an epic spectacle for everyone to watch and enjoy. Storywise, I enjoyed seeing a bigger part for Sheik Ilderim, played by Morgan Freeman, as the guy who really helped Ben-Hur in becoming not a only a free man and exacting revenge, but training him how to become a better chariot racer. I enjoyed seeing him coaching Ben-Hur, and even during the race giving him pointers. Lastly, this version really gave the character of Jesus, played by Rodrigo Santoro, a better role that gave more of an emotional and spiritual impact. In the old movie, Jesus was mysterious by not showing his face, but still being a part of Ben-Hur’s resurgence of faith. In this film, you see Jesus’ true character, and how inspirational he was to these people. How he always reiterates to not only Ben-Hur, but to all of his followers that revenge and violence is not the answer. That it all begins with love. That really made the message of the movie more powerful, and I appreciated the movie for adding more emphasis in that aspect to give it more meaning.
The So So: The pacing of this film was rushed. In the old film they definitely took their time with the character development and pacing. Here the character development was rushed, and the story seemed like they want to hurry up to get to the parts we all want to see. Honestly, it did affect the film, but I didn’t want to sit through four hours like the previous installment. At least the action scenes made it worth it. One thing they did rush which I thought was important was the ideologies between Ben-Hur and Messala, played by Toby Kebbell. You get the main point where Messala wanted war, but Ben-Hur believed in peace which leads them to their falling out, but you see their respect for each other. I just wished they focused more on these two different ideologies more, and tie in with Jesus to show why peace and love is better than war. I believe that was a missed opportunity to make the story stronger.
What I Didn’t Like: I thought the acting from Kebbel as Messala was very subpar. It felt like he couldn’t control his British accent. Instead of a being a fierce and respected leader, there were times where he seemed like he was a spoiled brat. There were many changes from the last movie to this one, but one change that really bothered me is that Messala survives the chariot race crash, and actually comes back to Ben-Hur’s family home where he practically screwed them over. It made that moment very underwhelming, and add to the fact that they rushed the miracle of healing Ben-Hur’s mother and sister from leprosy made it not as impactful as the previous movie had done. In those regards, I was disappointed.
Overall: If you watch this movie for the action, you won’t be disappointed, but for everything else, it is really up to your interpretation. It is not Oscar worthy as its predecessor, but after the rushed story and underwhelming scenes, it is a decent watch. For a positive message, I believe it did do its job to put on a positive twist of the story of Ben-Hur, and really made this film watchable in today’s movie making style of this classic film. You won’t be bored for sure!!!
Rating: 3.5 Stars
(Sidenote: Knight of Cups- Another Terrence Malick film where he goes for the art of filming and cinematography first and foremost, then story later. Just like all the movies he directed, I appreciate his art, but for me, it is just boring. The story had potential focusing on a depressed film screenwriter, played by Christian Bale, who is looking for an answer to overcome his depression by trying different relationships with different women. The cast is solid, and the cinematography of Los Angeles and Las Vegas was fun to see, but Malick’s way of filming is just not for me. However, for fans of his work, you may like this film!!!
Rating: 2 Stars)